Posts Tagged ‘local experience’

Going Local on Your Trip
Thursday, March 21st, 2013

One of the best parts of taking a career break trip is getting the opportunity to go local in a destination. When we’re grinding away at the 9-5′s and take our one or two weeks of vacation each year, it’s extremely difficult to really dig into a culture – for several reasons.

1. Time: Learning about a new culture and its people takes time. And traveling in a destination for a week or two rarely affords us the time to really get to know a place.

2. Priority: Often digging into a culture isn’t on the top of our priority list when taking a vacation. We are tired and just want to relax during the little time off we get – which is perfectly reasonable.

But taking extended time off for a career break will afford you that opportunity.

BootsnAll hosts a chat every Wednesday afternoon (3:30 EST) on Twitter entitled #RTWchat, and this past week’s chat was all about going local. They also do a corresponding video chat with a few guests, and they invited one of Meet, Plan, Go!’s co-founder, Sherry Ott, along with LL World Tour’s Lisa Lubin, to give their expertise on what it means to Go Local. Check out the video and the following resources to see how you can best connect with locals during your career break trip!

Read the following articles to learn more about going local on your trip:

Living La Dolce Vita: Slow Travel to Rome
Thursday, September 27th, 2012

The following is a destination post by Oh Rome.

Rome is an incredibly divisive city. Some love the hustle, bustle, noise and chaos of the Italian capital; others are overwhelmed by it and flee for the relative serenity of the nearby coast and countryside. For this reason it is very important to find out about the city and understand it before visiting, particularly if you’re planning to stay for more than a few days. Finding accommodation and settling in to the city can be difficult if you’re not really sure what to expect and the culture shock can be huge if you’ve never visited a southern European city before.

Finding somewhere to stay

As in most major European cities, an apartment rental is the best option if you’ll be in town for more than a few days. They offer a shortcut to the heart of Roman society and allow you to feel part of the city even when you’re relaxing in bed with a good book! If you’re going to be in Rome for less than two weeks, then an apartment rental agency is the place to start your search. Most will have in-depth guides to the areas of the city and be happy to answer any questions you have about the apartments or areas of the city. Oh-Rome also offers floor plans of every apartment which can be useful when you’re trying to work out how much space you’ll actually have. Guests coming from North America will likely find even the largest apartment in Rome to be a bit on the small side.

Rooms and apartments for longer-term rental can be found on Craigslist, which can be an easier option than dealing with an Italian real estate agent on your first days in the city. Do be sensible, though, and avoid handing over any money before you’ve seen the room.

If you’re only in Rome for a short time, consider an apartment in one of Rome’s central districts like Prati or Ludovisi. Apartments here will be more expensive than elsewhere in Rome but if you look carefully you may come across a hidden gem. Plus the ability to walk to the city’s main attractions (or perhaps stumble home) is invaluable.

If you’re staying for longer, you might widen your search to include Monteverde or the up-and-coming northern area of the city. By staying here you’ll not only pay around 25% less in monthly rent, but  will see a far more authentic slice of Italian life than you’d find in the tourist-dominated city centre.

Dining as the Romans do – places to eat

Rome has a fantastic selection of restaurants, bars, cafés and other eateries but unless you know what you’re looking for then it’s all too easy to end up in an overpriced tourist trap serving mediocre microwaved food. The best way to avoid this is to follow the locals and eat when they do (early lunches and late dinners are the norm in Rome). TripAdvisor and Yelp, for example, have a huge number of reviews and recommendations.

If you’re looking for a quick lunch, head to a Tavola Calda (literally a ‘hot plate!’). These serve an excellent range of traditional Italian food and will generally offer lunch for under €15 per person. Volpette Piu near Pyramide metro station is an excellent choice if you’re looking for Italian specialties whereas those looking for some more exotic flavors should visit Fal Fal near Porta Furba metro.

If you’re  craving something a bit more special, keep an eye out for an ‘osterie’. These are the typical family-run Italian restaurants that feature in movies, advertising and the dreams of romantics everywhere. While there are fewer of these in Rome as there once were (and some have now become tourist traps) there are still plenty around if you look hard enough. Osteria La Gensola, which specializes in fish, offers excellent quality food for around €30 per person including wine.

Shopping in Rome

Rome’s food markets are legendary for a reason. The market at Campo dei Fiori has so far resisted the relentless push of mass tourism and remains the best place in the city to pick up fresh fruit and vegetables, meat, fish and Italian specialties. Budding chefs looking to add a more exotic twist to their meals (or maybe just looking for a taste of home) should head to the Mercato Piazza Vittorio which is very popular with the city’s growing ethnic and immigrant communities.

If you’re staying in an apartment then be sure to check out delis and other food shops in the local area. Don’t be shy about asking neighbors or other people you meet for their recommendations. There are very few Italians who won’t get into a passionate debate over who makes the best pasta!

Finally, don’t hesitate to visit the local supermarket to pick up some of your provisions. This is after all where the locals truly do their shopping! Grocery stores in Rome range from small family-owned shops selling basic essentials (these are generally open long hours) to huge hypermarkets selling everything under the sun and much else besides. The Auchan at Porti de Roma is a good choice if you’re looking to do a big shop. Otherwise just keep your eyes peeled. A supermarket is never far away!

Meeting people

Rome is an incredibly popular destination for expats, gap-year students and other career breakers so check through your Facebook friends, Twitter followers and LinkedIn connections in case anyone you know is already there. It happens more often than you’d think! Otherwise language exchanges and Meetup.com are great ways to find new people and improve your Italian. Finally (say it quietly…) it may even be worth visiting an Irish pub. Conversation will be easy and they are excellent places to trade experiences with fellow travelers.

Wrap-up

It’s difficult to know exactly what you’ll make of Rome until you arrive. If you’ve previously been to Spain or Portugal then you’ll have some idea of the culture and pace of life you’ll encounter in the Italian capital. Rome may be the best city you’ve ever visited but do your research first to know what you’ll find when you get there. Make sure you have somewhere to stay for a few nights when you first arrive as finding accommodation can be very tricky during the summer months.

Don’t be afraid to start talking to people. Italians are (generally) a very friendly bunch and most will be happy to help improve your Italian (and their English!). Finally remember to make the most of every minute of your career break and do your best to avoid falling into an English language bubble. Throw the smartphone away, leave the map at home and take time to explore the city on your own terms; you never know what’s around the next corner!

Photos: xiquinhosilva, Andrey Belenko, Ambism

Living Like a Local in Barcelona
Tuesday, August 21st, 2012

The following is a destination post brought to you by Oh Barcelona.

Barcelona is an incredibly popular destination for city breaks and family holidays. The combination of long sandy beaches and a buzzing metropolitan centre also makes the city ideal for longer stays and career breaks. While the day-to-day cost of living in Spain has increased substantially in recent years Spain is still a far cheaper place to live than northern European countries like Germany or the UK.

Despite all these advantages the city can be overwhelming to the first time visitor, particularly if you’ll be in the area for longer than a few weeks. Barcelona is a faster-paced and more businesslike city than Spain’s reputation for siestas and ‘mañana’ might lead you to expect. Meeting people can also be difficult unless you really make the effort to put yourself out there so use this guide to make sure you hit the ground running on your trip to Barcelona!

Where to Stay

The best area of the city to live in depends on how long you’ll be in Barcelona and what you want to get out of the city. If you’re only in the city for a short period of time then consider staying in Eixample. The area is more expensive than others (particularly if you’re visiting in the height of summer) but is well located for all of the city’s main tourist attractions and is also a short metro journey from the beaches of Barceloneta. If you’re only renting a room in an apartment then double check if it actually has a window (a surprising amount do not!) and whether the window faces an internal courtyard or the street (Barcelona is a very noisy city and if you’re a light sleeper it’s worth paying the premium for a courtyard room).

If you’re looking to rent an entire apartment then air-conditioning is a must if you’re visiting from May-September (if the temperature doesn’t get you the humidity will…). Oh-Barcelona.com is an excellent place to start your search as you can easily filter apartments by area, amenities, number of beds and price.

Those staying in Barcelona for a little longer may want to consider looking in Poble Sec. Previously dogged by a poor reputation the neighborhood has improved markedly in recent years and many young professionals have moved in to take advantage of the area’s bohemian culture and comparatively lower property prices. You will be a little further from the main attractions but the area is well connected to the city centre by metro.

Working in Barcelona

While working during your ‘career break’ may seem a tad counter-intuitive it can be a great way to meet new people and will also allow you to extend your stay (or enjoy yourself that little bit more!). Casual work in bars and restaurants is easy enough to pick up during the summer months. Anyone working in Spain is required to obtain a N.I.E. from the local police station or foreign residents office (in central Barcelona this is located at Calle Balmas 192, get there early (before 8 o’clock) as spaces for the day will run out quickly. A N.I.E. can take up to two weeks to obtain, however if you apply at the main office in Barcelona you can generally pick up your certificate the following day or on the day you apply. If you’re only going to be doing casual work it is possible to get by without a number but you would be working illegally and some landlords will require a copy of your N.I.E certificate before renting you an apartment.

Eating like the Locals

Spain’s love of late night dining is legendary and even on weeknights you will struggle to get a table in a good restaurant before around 8 o’clock in the evening. Should hunger overtake you before this then your best bit is to hit one of the city’s tapas bars. If possible avoid going to the bars on the city’s more crowded avenues such as Las Ramblas or Passeig de Gràcia. Not only will you save money (€10 tapas on Las Ramblas are not unheard of, whereas €3-4 is a far more common rate elsewhere) but you’ll probably eat better food, receive far better service and be able to soak up a far more authentic atmosphere.

Meeting People

The internet has made meeting people with similar interests and hobbies far easier than it might once have been. Language exchanges are great way to meet up with fellow newcomers and improve your Spanish. Additionally there are yoga sessions, Pilates classes, meditation and wine tasting. Meetup.com features around 50 weekly events in the city so there’s bound to be something which appeals to you!

Learning the Language

Barcelona is a bilingual city and most signage and public announcements are in Catalan. This can make picking up Spanish more difficult than in other cities as you won’t be exposed to the language as much as in Madrid or Seville.

Nevertheless Barcelona is still an excellent place to practice your Spanish. The Babylon language school runs a huge variety of part-time, intensive and one-to-one courses and is very popular with its students. Tuition like this doesn’t come cheap however so don’t be surprised to be paying over €500 a month for your language course. Many language schools offer taster sessions so don’t be afraid to pop in and meet the teachers before you decide to part with your cash.

Getting Out

As wonderful as Barcelona is it can, from time to time, become a little too much. Luckily there are many lovely villages and small towns in the region and most are easily accessible by train.

Sitges is a charming traditional village around 30 minutes south of Barcelona. Boasting traditional Spanish architecture, several long sandy beaches and a diverse dining scene the town is also popular with gay and lesbian travelers and regularly hosts cultural and music festivals.

Figueres, around an hour north of Barcelona, was the birthplace of surrealist artist Salvador Dali and is now home to a museum hosting his work. The museum building is as eccentric as the art inside and is almost worth the visit in itself. The town itself is a typical Catalan community with beautiful squares, a few interesting boutiques and (yet again!) an excellent selection of restaurants, tapas bars and other eateries.

How to Go Local in Istanbul
Tuesday, August 14th, 2012

Of course when you go to Istanbul, Turkey you’ll be drawn to the ancient sites and Ottoman history in Sultanhamet – the old part of the city. However, many career breakers are looking for more local connections and experiences the longer they travel. If you are looking for local experiences and a chance to escape the tourist crowds in Istanbul – here’s how!

Local Markets

Skip the Grand Bazaar and Spice Bazaar and if you really want to go local – then head to the Sunday market in Tarlabasi. Just down the hill from the glitz of Istiklal Street is what many locals might refer to the ‘wrong side of the tracks.’ This is a neighborhood that has not quite succumbed to gentrification yet – but I’m pretty sure in a few years it will look very different. However, if you are looking for an authentic experience – this is it. I spent a few hours at this market shopping for produce and taking photos. Every single vendor and person there were a joy to interact with. I was constantly stopped and asked if I would take a photo or simply try food – as a foreign traveler, I was definitely in the minority. Plus the best part is that I walked away with bags of produce and only spent about $10 US.

Local Getaway

Go where the locals go to escape the loud, crowded streets of Istanbul – Princes’ Islands. It’s a short 50 minute ferry ride to the string of 4 islands – Kınalıada, Burgazada, Heybeliada and Büyükada. Ferries depart from Bostancı, Kartal and Maltepe on the Asian side, and from Kabataş on the European side and cost about 2 Turkish Lira per ride ($1.10 US). During the Byzantine period, princes and other royalty were exiled to the islands which is why they are referred to as Princes’ Islands. But these days it’s a pleasure to escape to these islands where little seafood restaurants dot the perimeters and there is no motorized traffic. You’ll hear (and smell) plenty of horses, though, as horse and buggy are the main forms of transportation for people. Go spend a day at the islands and soak up what it’s like to be a local Istanbulite escaping the city!

If you really want to experience the local life on the islands, then go out on a weekday as the islands are filled with the people who live there as opposed to just Istanbul day trippers that head to the islands on the weekends.

Go to the Outskirts

Most tourists stay in Sultanhamet and Beyoglu – but if you want to get really local then venture out further past the old city walls! I took a very in depth walking tour of the Balat and Eyüp neighborhoods and quickly realized that they had a completely different vibe then what I had so far experienced in Istanbul. Most notably the Eyüp Mosque is one of the most sacred places in Istanbul. The mosque of Eyüp is a place of pilgrimage for Muslims from ancient times. In addition, Eyüp has some of the most spectacular views of the city and Golden Horn if you ride the cable car up the hill. Tourists seldom get to this part of the city.

In addition, if you want to see modern Istanbul then head to the Cevahir Mall and neighborhood just a short metro ride past Taksim. There, you will be amazed by what modern Istanbul is really like – businessmen and women in suits, chain stores, and even an amusement park inside the mall. I rented this room in an apartment behind the mall and seldom saw another tourist around!

Take Opportunities

Lose your shyness and take any opportunities you can to meet locals as odds are you will end up with a new friend who will take you around to their favorite places and share their favorite foods. Before I went to Istanbul I reached out to friends who had been there before to see if they could introduce me to any local contacts they had. I ended up meeting 3 or 4 different locals through this course of action and had my own personal tour guides to Istanbul! The Turks are extremely kind and excited to show you their city and culture, so be sure to take advantage of your connections.

Stay Local

I stayed in a couple different neighborhoods while renting apartments through Wimdu. Each neighborhood had something different to offer – but each also had one thing that was the same – a real local culture that I quickly became immersed in. Wimdu has all kinds of neighborhood choices in European and Asian Istanbul that get you out of the tourist areas and hotels and into real neighborhoods. Plus, by staying in an apartment, I was lucky enough to meet the apartment manager, Fatih, who also showed me around the neighborhood and made sure I knew where the market and restaurants were.

Local Transport

Skip the taxis whose drivers seldom speak English and rarely get you to your desired destination.  Instead get comfortable using local public transport. Get an Istanbul Card and it will be your gateway to buses, ferries, trams, metros, and funiculars. The transportation system in Istanbul can seem confusing as there are so many options and none really connect exactly with each other – but they all do work together to get you across the city. In the evenings around 6PM the trams can be very crowded with locals going home from work – but it’s a fun experience to see and interact with the commuters!

By going more local in Istanbul, your time there will be more rewarding and you’ll leave Turkey feeling as if you know more about the modern day culture of this fascinating country and city!

 

Disclosure:  Sherry Ott was a guest of Wimdu.co.uk during her stay in Istanbul.  However all of the opinions expressed here are her own. 

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